A white collar job is great exercise for your brain, but shoveling your way out of a pile of emails doesn’t burn many calories and a marathon meeting isn’t really a marathon. In the age of the busy information worker it takes extra effort and planning to rally your tired brain and get that workout in. But I believe it’s critical to your mental and physical well being.
I inherited a love of exercise from my Dad. He’s 66 and he just passed an amazing milestone. He has exercised every single day for the past 10 years. That includes every day he was traveling for work, every day he was sick, and even a day where he had eye surgery.
He doesn’t do it to show how tough he is. He has a calm demeanor and the physical presence of a business casual Gandhi with curly hair. He does it for his mental well being and probably because he’s slightly obsessive.
Maybe I’m slightly obsessive too, but I’m always trying to find ways to fit exercise into a busy routine. So in celebration of my Dad’s milestone, here are a few ways to keep your fitness going when you are busy, traveling, or pressed for time:
1. Progress, Not Goals – If you want to love exercise, don’t make it into a second job. You already have a regular job with intense goals. With your exercise, just focus on consistent improvement with no set goals or timeframes. Just keep getting better.
2. Consistency – When you are first starting, consistency trumps intensity. Later on that may reverse, but for now just keep the flow going. It’s better to do something small daily than to immediately go out and try to run an uphill marathon with bricks in your backpack.
3. Find What You Love – Exercise is not just running on a hamster wheel cardio machine at the gym. You have to try different things. You might be amazing at pickleball or floor hockey. You may like swimming, intense hiking, or you could be awesome at mountain unicycling.
4. Preparation – Whenever you go on a business trip, always bring your exercise gear. When you arrive at your hotel, before you go get dinner and drinks, do twenty minutes of hamster wheel cardio time. It’s not my first choice, but I’ll do it if I have to.
5. Drive Don’t Fly – If I have to do a business trip that is a moderate drive versus a short flight, I will drive so I can bring my bike. I use Strava.com or MapMyRide.com to look up local rides and make sure I have time to explore.
6. Research Local Activities – Almost every town has a bike or running club with activities for all fitness levels. When traveling, I’ve shown up to group rides in towns I’ve never been to before and been welcomed by great people. Local amateur athlete communities are almost always welcoming and positive.
7. Cure a Meat Hangover – I usually eat big meaty meals and drink more while traveling. Then I wake up with a meat hangover and a beer headache. In the morning I’ll suck down a cup of coffee and then, even when pressed for time, go do ten minutes on the treadmill. You burn 100 calories, but more importantly you get a sweat going, get rid of your headache, and cure your meat hangover.
8. Bike Commuting – My commute by car to the office is 25 minutes. By bike it’s 40 minutes. With the right gear and lighting it can be done year round and you just converted an hour a day of car time to an hour and a half of exercise time. Also, you will probably look good in tights.
9. Lunch Ride – We have a handful of cyclists at our office and we defined a lunch loop. It’s 15 miles and you go at whatever intensity or speed you want. We all use Strava to track our time and cheer on each other’s accomplishments. It’s great team building.
10. Profit and Loss – If you want to pay attention to calories, get one of the many calorie apps and track it. If you’ve ever managed a profit and loss statement, it’s the same thing, only calories burned is your revenue, and calories consumed is your cost. The net profit is your weight loss.
11. Intensity – Once you have built a great base of consistent fitness, you should try to increase intensity as long as you are healthy enough to handle it. When you are short on time, riding ten miles with five intense hill repeats is the best thing you can do for your fitness. I try to go all out anaerobic a few times per week. It’s hard, but it will catapult you to a new fitness level.
12. Training Partner – Find a person whose schedule meshes with yours and is on a similar trajectory. I’ve had a great training partner for the last few years who, despite tons of trash talking, is always reliable and game for pushing the limits.
In the end, remember that exercise should be as much about the experience as it is about just getting fit. You will feel better, meet great people, and if you start to enjoy it, you might take some of your precious weekend time and do it just for fun. That’s when you know you are hooked.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’d be interested in others’ tips for building fitness into their busy routines.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go do hill repeats until I puke.